Over the last few years, ABC has created a winning Thursday night lineup of back-to-back ShondaLand shows, with Scandal airing in the middle of Grey’s Anatomy and How to Get Away with Murder. But Kerry Washington’s pregnancy has spurred a change this fall, with Scandal being pushed back to midseason and the freshman drama Notorious taking its place. Unfortunately for TGIT (Thank God It’s Thursday) fans, that’s a prime slot to fill and Notorious fails to rise to the challenge.
Created by Josh Berman and Allie Hagan, Notorious is based on the real-life relationship between famed criminal defense attorney, Mark Geragos and long-time Larry King Live executive producer, Wendy Walker. The drama follows powerhouse TV producer Julia George (Piper Perabo) and charismatic defense attorney Jake Gregorian (Daniel Sunjata) as they strike up an unconventional partnership in an effort to shape national news coverage and control the media, the justice system, and ultimately, each other.
Based on the premise alone, it’s easy to see why ABC slotted Notorious in Scandal‘s place. The drama has all of the glossy trappings of a ShondaLand series and seems to promise a similarly twisty ride. Unfortunately, it has none of the finesse or smartly packed punches of its Thursday night counterparts.
Let’s start with the problematic characters. Neither Julia nor Jake are particularly likable, despite Perabo and Sunjata’s best efforts. Together, the two have decent chemistry and there are several brief moments of enjoyable enough banter. But Sunjata brings zero believability to his weightier scenes, so it feels like there’s no depth to balance out his character’s smarminess.
Perabo is more convincing as Julia, especially when she’s confidently barking out orders in the newsroom or slickly tricking Sunjata’s Jake into an exclusive interview. But as in the case of her co-star, her more emotionally charged scenes come across as inauthentic. To be fair, that may be more of a result of the hackneyed writing than it is Perabo’s performance. Her love life storyline, at least in the pilot, is laughably clichéd. A lousy boyfriend leads her to realize that a booming career can’t make up for a bad personal life? That’s basically the plot of every bad TV movie ever.
But the biggest issue with the Notorious pilot is how overstuffed it is with reveals. Part of what makes ShondaLand shows so addictive is that they know how to create a solid twist at just the right moment. Even Scandal, which has lost much of its luster in recent seasons, can still pull off an effective surprise. Notorious, on the other hand, drops about a half-dozen bombs in the premiere alone — each of which only become less impactful as the episode goes on.
Despite its many shortcomings, there is room for improvement on Notorious, especially if it can figure out its serious pacing problems. Hopefully, it’ll get there sooner rather than later. Otherwise, it’ll be a long few months for TGIT fans.
Notorious kicks off on Thursday, September 22 at 9 p.m. EST.
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